Car­ing for a Se­nior Pet


Help yours grow old with grace

Just like peo­ple, pets can de­velop age-re­lated health con­di­tions, but you can help them live out their golden years grace­fully. Turn the page for how.

1Watch for Signs of Pain

Pets can slow down as they age for many rea­sons, in­clud­ing arthri­tis, back pain, and de­creased mus­cle mass. He­si­tance to jump up, yelp­ing when moved, and foot drag­ging can point to arthri­tis in dogs, ex­plains Mary Gard­ner, D.V.M., co­founder of Lap of Love, a vet­eri­nar­ian net­work spe­cial­iz­ing in pet hos­pice and eu­thana­sia. Changes in groom­ing be­hav­ior or not us­ing the lit­ter box could mean a cat is hurt­ing. If yours shows these symp­toms, your vet may be able to pre­scribe an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory or pain-re­lief op­tions.

2Ease Ag­ing Anx­i­ety

At least 50% of dogs over age 10 have some form of cog­ni­tive dys­func­tion, Gard­ner says. It of­ten shows up as pant­ing and pac­ing, es­pe­cially at night. “They can be­come rest­less and have a stressed look on their faces,” she says. Pets may also stare off into space or head­butt walls, seem­ingly un­aware of their sur­round­ings. Cats may meow or howl at night too. Ni­cholas Dod­man, D.V.M., co­founder of the Cen­ter for Ca­nine Be­hav­ior Stud­ies, adds that if pets be­come less so­cial or ac­tive or ap­pear to for­get their house train­ing, that can also point to cog­ni­tive is­sues. While there’s no cure for pet de­men­tia, your vet can help find ways to re­duce your pet’s se­nil­ity-re­lated anx­i­ety.

3Help Them Stay Well Longer

Bring older pets for a checkup at least twice a year start­ing at age 7, both vets say, as they’re more sus­cep­ti­ble to de­vel­op­ing a dis­ease or los­ing their vi­sion or hear­ing. “There are sub­tle things your vet can no­tice that may not be as ev­i­dent to you,” Gard­ner ex­plains. Mean­while, re­sist the urge to “treat” your se­nior pet to more gen­er­ous food por­tions. Gard­ner says that pets who are even 10% over­weight can suf­fer from too much stress on their joints. If your pet’s ac­tiv­ity starts to slow down, work with your vet to de­crease his caloric in­take. But don’t stop play­ing with him: Ex­er­cis­ing with pets is a ma­jor fac­tor in keep­ing them healthy as they age, Dod­man says, as is a strong bond with you.

4Know When It’s Time to Say Good­bye

This is a tough de­ci­sion you don’t have to make alone. Have a frank talk with your vet about your pet’s prog­no­sis as well as your fam­ily’s abil­ity to keep her com­fort­able, Gard­ner ad­vises. Dod­man also sug­gests get­ting out­side opin­ions from trusted fam­ily mem­bers or friends who may have a more ob­jec­tive view of your pet. “The best piece of ad­vice I give is that it will al­ways feel too early un­til it is too late,” Gard­ner says.

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